Since The New York Times published a story in June 2020 that claimed US intelligence concluded Russia offered bounties to militants in Afghanistan to kill US troops, it has slowly been revealed that the report had no basis. On Thursday, putting the final nail in the coffin of the Russian bounty hoax, the Biden administration walked back the claim.
"The United States intelligence community assesses with low to moderate confidence that Russian intelligence officers sought to encourage Taliban attacks US and coalition personnel in Afghanistan in 2019 and perhaps earlier," a senior administration official told The Daily Beast.
Can’t wait for the hour-long retraction special by @maddow and the ENTIRE hysterical @msnbc @cnn lineup who dutifully has been doing stenography for U.S. intelligence since the dawn of time https://t.co/HkDIKdH3y7— Jordan (@JordanChariton) April 15, 2021
As The Daily Beast report explains, "low to moderate confidence" means "the intelligence agencies have found the story is, at best, unproven — and possibly untrue."
The comments from the officials are not surprising, as US intelligence agencies, most notably the NSA, dissented from the Russian bounty story almost immediately. Shortly after the original New York Times report was published, NSA sources spoke out against the conclusion.
A memo circulated by the National Intelligence Council in July 2020 said only the CIA and the National Counterterrorism Center assessed with "medium confidence" that Russia offered the Taliban bounties. The memo said other intelligence agencies, only mentioning the NSA by name, gave it "low confidence." According to US intelligence agencies’ definition of the confidence levels, the "medium" or "moderate" confidence level leaves plenty of room for doubt.
US officials told The Daily Beast that the reporting about the alleged bounties came from "detainee reporting," which suggests the bogus information was obtained through interrogation by the US-backed Afghan government, which has a history of torturing prisoners. The fact that some of the information was obtained through interrogation was included in the original New York Times report, one reason why so many doubted it.
The Daily Beast today: "U.S. Intel Walks Back Claim Russians Put Bounties on American Troops"— Steve Guest (@SteveGuest) April 15, 2021
But hey, last year Joe Biden and Kamala Harris got what they wanted: pic.twitter.com/Z2hAu3s9tI
President Trump dismissed the Russian bounty story as a "hoax," which prompted cries of treason from his political opponents. The report inspired House Democrats, working with Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) to add an amendment to the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that sought to block troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, which was included in the final NDAA.
Despite the fact that the Russian bounty story has zero credibility, the Biden administration is still using it to advance hawkish Russia policies. When announcing a series of sanctions on Moscow and the expelling of Russian diplomats on Thursday, the State Department cited "reports of bounties on US soldiers in Afghanistan".